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Yearlong 40th Anniversary of Coeducation Celebration Concludes

News Co-Editor

Published: Sunday, February 9, 2014

Updated: Sunday, February 9, 2014 15:02

   Forty years ago, Holy Cross opened its doors to women—a move that allowed women access to leadership roles and helped set the tone for further diversified, equal-opportunity education. On Tuesday, January 28, the yearlong celebration of this major milestone in Holy Cross coeducation came to a close with a special finale event hosted in the Hogan Ballroom.

   Dean Jacqueline Peterson, Vice President of student affairs—and the first female V.P.—shared opening remarks at the event, which was heavily attended by students, faculty, and alumni of both sexes. Courtesy of Dining Services, attendees enjoyed an open bar and “Food Across the Decades,” an assortment of hors d’oeuvres composed of popular foods from each of the decades that women have attended Holy Cross. Students and alumni alike perused old yearbooks throughout the ballroom and enjoyed performances by the Rhythm Nation Steppaz as well as the Delilahs, the oldest female a cappella group on campus. For the first time, Holy Cross also unveiled the trailer for a multimedia presentation which will document the entire yearlong 40th anniversary celebration.      
 At the event, Dean Peterson provided a brief history of coeducation, addressing the motivations of Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J., former President, in his decision to admit women. Fr. Brooks, the longest-serving president of Holy Cross and a major advocate of diversity, announced that the College would transition to coeducation in 1972, within the first year of his 24-year appointment. When asked why the presence of women on campus was so critical, Fr. Brooks said, “My reasons were based really on what I understood Jesuit education to be—namely an effort to educate leaders in our society. I was quite aware that the status of women was changing rather rapidly and therefore, if Holy Cross was to be truthful to its roots and traditions, and consistent, then it should be educating women as well as men, because it was obvious that women were on the threshold of gaining significant leadership roles in society.”     
   As of last year, Holy Cross has graduated 12,369 women, many of whom have gone on to hold high-profile leadership roles. Ann McElaney-Johnson, ’79, the finale event’s keynote speaker, is one of the many faces of success. A strong advocate for women’s education and leadership issues and the 2010 recipient of the YWCA Woman of Vision Award, McElaney-Johnson has given over 25 years of service to small liberal arts colleges throughout the country. She has served as President of Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles, CA since 2011, and has presented on issues related to women at a variety of conferences, including the Milken Institute 2013 Global Conference and the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C. She and her four sisters are all Holy Cross graduates. Speaking about her experience, McElaney-Johnson has nothing but praise for the space and support that Holy Cross provided her. “I don’t recall feeling any different as a woman here,” she noted. “In retrospect, I commend Holy Cross for creating, so quickly and so fully, a real space for women—a space that was natural, welcoming, and affirming.” McElaney-Johnson spoke of how Holy Cross helped direct her to reach her potential and never stop pursuing her goals. “When I come
across closed doors—or cracked, but still durable glass ceilings,” she said, “I try to proceed as though limits to my abilities do not exist—because that is what Holy Cross taught us to do.” Statistics, McElaney-Johnson continued, don’t lie about the disparity in leadership roles. Although women are 51% of the national population, they compose only 26% of college and university presidents, 18% of Congress, and less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs. McElaney-Johnson took advantage of the emotionally charged atmosphere to urge the Holy Cross community to continue its precedent of supporting and promoting women in leadership. “Holy Cross changed my life, and the lives of my sisters. We were at home here. Holy Cross truly taught us to be men and women for and with others.”


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